NASA and its Russian counterpart Roscosmos have formally agreed to exchange seats on four upcoming missions to the International Space Station. The first missions – with a Russian aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon and an American on Soyuz vehicles – will fly in September.
“Integrated Flight Crews ensures that there are appropriately trained crew members onboard the station for essential maintenance and spacewalking,” NASA spokesman Josh Finch said in a statement. “It also protects against emergencies such as a problem with any crewed spacecraft, serious medical problems for the crew, or an onboard emergency that requires crew and the designated craft to return to Earth sooner than planned.”
As expected, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio will fly alongside astronauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitriy Petlin on the Soyuz MS-22 mission, which is scheduled to launch on September 21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. In addition, NASA’s Loral O’Hara will fly with astronauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub on the Soyuz MS-23 mission next spring.
Meanwhile, astronaut Anna Kekina will fly with NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Casada and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata on the Crew-5 mission in September. Cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev will join NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Woody Hoborg as part of Crew 6 mission next spring.
“The no-money exchange arrangement includes transportation to and from the International Space Station and comprehensive mission support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight and landing operations, and crew rescue services,” Finch said.
The announcement came on Friday morning, shortly after the Kremlin announced that Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin was recoil from office. Rogozin will be replaced by former Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov. During Rogozin’s four-year tenure, Rogozin had a very strained relationship with his Western counterparts and always seemed more interested in cajoling Russian President Vladimir Putin than in promoting the space station’s efforts.
A source said that the timing of Friday’s announcement was a coincidence. However, NASA will not mourn the loss of Rogozin, who has been increasingly aggressive since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has made numerous threats about Russia’s participation in the station. NASA officials said they maintain a good working relationship with other top officials within Roscosmos, which has helped them move forward with the seat swap agreement despite Rogozin’s chaotic leadership.
Integrated crews have been the norm throughout the ISS program, and are an important symbol of cooperation between Russia and the United States despite geopolitical tensions. Russian cosmonaut Sergey Krikalev was the first Russian to fly a US spacecraft, on the NASA space shuttle in 1994. A year later, NASA astronaut Norman Thagard flew to the Mir space station on a Soyuz craft.
After the space shuttle retired in 2011, NASA had to rely on Russia to transport the crew to the space station. Although Russia eventually charged NASA about $90 million for a seat, the country halted its end by providing reliable transportation. NASA no longer needs Russia for this, with Crew Dragon going online as an operational spacecraft. Kekina will become the first Russian to launch a US vehicle other than the Space Shuttle.
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